By Barbara DiBernard
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Extra info for Alchemy and Finnegans Wake
Certainly alchemy and the occult were topics generating much interest in the years before and during Joyce's composition of the Wake. The occult revival of the nineteenth century renewed interest in such works as Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, a collection of texts by English alchemists compiled by Elias Ashmole and first published in 1652, and made many previously unavailable texts available. From 1885 to 1906, the French scholar Berthelot, referred to in the article on alchemy in the eleventh Encyclopedia Britannica, published translations and studies of many alchemical manuscripts which had lain ignored in various libraries for centuries.
London. Page xiii List of Texts Used and Abbreviations P A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. UUlysses. Letters ILetters of James Joyce. Vol. I, ed. Stuart Gilbert. : Viking Press, 1966. : Viking Press, 1968) are included in the text without a preceding symbol. 30 refers to Finnegans Wake, page 182, line 30. Left- and right-hand marginal notes on pages 260308 are designated by L and R respectively. L1 refers to the first left-hand note on page 299. Footnotes on pages 260308 are designated F, followed by the number of the note.
The fact that Joyce may not have read widely and deeply in alchemical texts and histories does not detract from the significance of these allusions. In exploring the relationship of alchemy to the Wake, we should follow Joyce's own partly ironic advice to a friend in reference to Vico's Scienza Nuova: "I would not pay overmuch attention to these theories, beyond using them for all they are worth" (Letters I, 241). Alchemy serves not only as a metaphor for the artistic process, but also as a source or analogue for many of the major themes of the Wake, including incest, colors, forgery, death and rebirth, the dream form, the use of excrement, the Golden Age, number symbolism, the macrocosm-microcosm theory, and the reconciliation of opposites.
Alchemy and Finnegans Wake by Barbara DiBernard